Friday, 6 January 2017

These are extracts from the book Muslims in the Western Imagination by Sophia Rose Arjana. Arjana is a professor of Islamic Studies. I'm not sure if she is an actual Muslim, too, but she might as well be. The book a typical "Blame Whitey" tome that decries the natural survival instincts of European men as crazed prejudices based on irrational fears. It employs the typically Jewish method of discourse that switches from objective reality, where truth can be assessed and determined, to the subjective realm, a world of infinitely elusive psychologising where all hope of factual truth is lost in a endless reverie about motive, emotion and purity of soul. Her intent, in writing the book, is to argue that our fears of Muslims are irrational and that this "Islamophobia" has deep roots in the traditionally monstrous depiction of Muslims in European culture.

The politics of the author are obviously not in sympathy with our own. Nonetheless, her book contains lots of interesting information, including that, for much of our history, Jews were perceived, and represented, as co-conspirators with Muslims against Christendom. The "Jew as Ally of the Muslim" is clearly a meme with profound roots in the European psyche - almost, as Carl Jung might put it, an Archetype - a potent symbol waiting to be re-activated for political effect. And this political mobilisation, when it comes, will be made all the easier by the fact that claims of cooperation between Muslims and Jews against Christendom, both historically and in the present day, are grounded in objective truth.


Medieval monsters were created along the contours of the Classical imagination, which is why we find early Muslims, often called Saracens, depicted alongside Plinian creatures including Blemmyae, Amazons, Cyclops, Panotii, and Ephiphagus, creatures that often regenerated as new monsters in the modern period. One example is the cynocephalus, a dog-headed man that dates from the Classical period and was identified as a Jewish and Muslim monster in the Middle Ages.

Medieval Muslim monsters were often located in faraway lands, a strategy that helped identify Christians with the lands they themselves occupied and further identified these lands as not controlled by the foreign creatures who dwelled nearby. Jews, Europe’s internal enemies, were often conflated with Saracens and other foreigners despite their location within, or on the edges of, European communities.

Identity was often shaped by ethnogenesis—a sense of origins situated in a limited understanding of geography that dominated much of the Middle Ages. Mythologies of a Jewish-Muslim conspiracy against Christendom abounded in claims of Jewish mosques and Muslim synagogues, in the paintings of Jews and Saracens crucifying the Son of God, and in plays depicting Christian narratives, including the Crucifixion and the Assumption of Mary, that were performed through the end of the Renaissance. Although these depictions do not represent monsters, they are included because of their contribution to the idea of the Muslim as a monstrous character.

 ... For Christians, evil was a reality—the cause of illnesses, wars, and calamities—often personified in Satan, demons, and monsters. Satan was a character that dwelled among men. Demons as well occupied numerous spaces in the medieval imagination. According to Origen, the Antichrist forced humans to act out of accordance with God’s rules through “evil daimones and evil angels.” Jews and Muslims were linked to these acts, and eventually, Muslims were placed at the Crucifixion and other pre-Islamic crimes.

It is crucial to understand the central role that Jews played in medieval Christian thinking, for a number of reasons—among them, the fact that Jews and Muslims were linked in the minds of medieval Christians as nefarious co-conspirators. One simply cannot talk of Muslim monsters without Jewish ones. As characters in the medieval imaginaire, they often appeared together. Jews were blamed for Christ’s death and many ills that befell Christian communities, a seemingly endless list of calamities including crop failures, plagues, and foreign invasions. Visually, Jews were portrayed as cannibals, murderers, demons, and monsters.

In one painting, a Jew-Dragon consumes humans in an underground lair. European Jews were also cast as non-monstrous villains, most commonly as the murderers of Christ and countless other Christian innocents. Medieval narratives claimed that Jews kidnapped, murdered, and ate Christian children, fantasies portrayed in paintings from the Middle Ages onward. Jewish men often appeared in paintings harassing Christ before his crucifixion and behaving similarly at the execution of saints. In bestiaries, Jews appear in the form of anti-Semitic hate signs, including the foxes and hyenas shown hunting the birds that represent Christ and his followers.

These expressions of hate toward Christianity’s “internal” enemy are strongly implicated in the manufacturing of Muslim monsters, in particular, in the Black Saracen and cynocephalie, and later in paintings of the Crucifixion that feature Jewish and Muslim onlookers. The creation of medieval Jewish and Muslim imaginaries is due in part to Christians’ efforts to understand themselves as a community.

According to Steven Kruger, both Jews and Muslims “stood in simultaneous proximity and distance from the Western European Christian; that is, in positions that guaranteed them a certain ideological and emotional significance within the processes of self-definition.” This resulted in fantasies of a Jewish-Muslim conspiracy in which the enemies of Christendom cooperate as agents of Satan, intent on overturning God’s order on earth through military invasion, trickery, and magic.

The characterization of Jews and Muslims as evil connivers is well established in the scholarship: The Christian net for the capture of Jews and other agents of Satan was spread wide to draw within it Saracens as well, for were they not also obviously in league with and abetted by the Jews? Moslem incursions at various times were, in fact, construed as forms of Jewish sabotage. All of this is but part of a larger phenomenon, or fantasy, in which the Saracens themselves were identified as demons, as Antichrist (so we have seen), but, more to the point, were believed to be in league with the Jews, even thought, for example, to have assisted them in the Crucifixion.

Norman Cohn posits, in the face of this miraculous cooperation of Jews and Saracens in the popular demonology of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, that the only reason Christians were somewhat more obsessed with Jews was that they “lived scattered through Christian Europe. ... The Antichrist was often tied to Jewish and Muslim figures in theology, literature, and art. This was, after all, part of how Christians defined themselves against communities that stood in opposition for one reason or another. As Jeffrey Jerome Cohen puts it, “the classification of the Jews together with the Muslims” was one of the major “subsets in a larger genus of hermeneutically constructed infidels who undermined the unity of the Christian faith.”

These ideas did not end with the onset of modernity, a point raised by some scholars of Orientalism and anti-Semitism, who have argued that the vilification of Jews and Muslims is a continuously related historical process. Without one, it is impossible to fully understand, or acknowledge, the other. Anti-Jewish rhetoric and anti-Muslim rhetoric are similar. Guibert of Nogent’s account of Muhammad’s death describes an afflicted body, mirroring contemporaneous anti-Semitic writings about diseased Jewish bodies. The account of Muhammad’s death in this work “echoes, in its focus on the body and bodily debility, the stories involving Jews in the Memoirs.”


An archive of Muslim monsters must include their cousins, the Jewish monsters. Jews and Muslims were often confused in the minds of medieval Christians, a result of the myriad ways in which they were co-identified in the theology, literature, and art of the period.

The joint vilification of Jews and Muslims in the Middle Ages continued into the Renaissance. Medieval Muslim monsters like the Black Saracen, a Muslim-Ethiopian-Jewish hybrid, and the cynocephalus, which had both Jewish and Muslim incarnations, often exhibited anti-Semitic Jewish characteristics. Typically, the way this was expressed was through the actions of these monsters, who were shown harassing, torturing, and killing Christian saints, and also were depicted as the executioners of Jesus.

As early as the 690s, Jews were accused of being in cahoots with the Muslims, referred to as their “Hebrew” brethren by King Egica of Spain. Throughout the Middle Ages, Muslims were often described as “tainted with Judaism.” Christian theologians argued that both Jewish and Muslim religious practices were flawed and heretical, and furthermore, that they were collaborators, either in conspiring to undo the Church or—and this is where the monsters often appear—mutilating and killing Christian men, women, and children.

Renaissance paintings of the crucifixion, the martyrdom of saints, and other scenes often feature Jewish and Muslim (typically, Turkish) figures participating in these crimes.

...The Jewish Sarrazin is an early example of the charge of Jews and Muslims as Christianity’s eternal enemies, even more significant because these representations become stock characters in Renaissance paintings of the Crucifixion and the execution of Christian saints. The linkage of Jews and Muslims/Saracens was so common that it was “difficult to name the one group without conjuring up the other.” We find Jewish and Muslim figures side by side in these scenes, whipping Christ, stoking the fires of an executioner, and observing these scenes with perverse expressions of enjoyment. After the Renaissance, Jews and Muslims continued to be vilified in European discourse, a topic covered in the chapter on Orientalism. The purported relationship between Jews and Muslims as co-conspirators existed in the Christian imaginaire for centuries. It was not ultimately extinguished until Jews were finally considered capable of assimilating—something that didn’t take place until the late twentieth century and that has yet to happen for Muslims.



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